Image via iStockNew Year's resolutions: They can be motivating and inspiring ("I want to feel healthy and strong in 2016"). Or they can be completely out of reach and by extension demoralizing and even dangerous ("I am going to run a marathon in a month, and I'm starting my training now!").
We asked some fitness and nutrition experts to identify some common risky resolutions and offer healthy alternatives for the coming year.
1. Lose 10 pounds in 10 days
"The jump-start or quick-fix approach is not sustainable," says Rebecca Scritchfield, a registered dietitian and American College of Sports Medicine-certified health fitness specialist. "It usually is just a sign of feeling panicked or desperate."
Instead, play the long game. Nutrition and exercise should not feel like punishment, she says. Start from a place of self-care and compassion: Think balanced nutrition, adequate sleep (seven to nine hours) and exercise.
"Don't set a weight-loss goal," Scritchfield says. "Focus on your habits."
If it helps you observe and reflect, start journaling, she says. Pay attention to your energy levels throughout the day, list one thing you're grateful for, note when things make you feel whole and satisfied - those things are worth repeating and revisiting.
2. Jump on the latest fad diet
At the moment, intermittent fasting (diets that cycle between fasting days and regular eating days), Whole30 (whole-foods-based eating that excludes many food groups, including grain, legumes and all sugars, including honey) and juicing are all the rage. But Scritchfield is not a fan.
- Intermittent fasting: "When it comes to intermittent fasting, you're basically ignoring the body's needs once a week or more," Scritchfield says, referring to the days when you might be allowed only 500 calories.
- Whole30: "It's extremely restrictive. It's a diet in disguise," Scritchfield says. "All the fresh vegetables are great, but if you were eating junk food and switch over to Whole30, it's just going from one extreme to another." Not to mention that super-restrictive diets are difficult to maintain (say, past those 30 days).
- Juicing: "You're not getting any fiber with fruit smoothies, but you are getting a lot of sugar," Scritchfield says, adding that juicing is not sustainable. "It's very temporary. Eventually you'll go from cleanse to cocktail."
Instead, Scritchfield says, include all food groups (she's against any restrictions unless there are medical reasons) in your food planning. Emphasize vegetables and fruits (half your plate) but let grains (a quarter of the plate) and protein (a quarter of the plate) play a part, too. Keep an eye on portions - the U.S. dietary guidelines (choosemyplate.gov) provide a better understanding of what a portion looks like - but don't count calories.
It may sound nebulous, but the way you eat should not consume you (no pun intended) but rather allow you to be compassionate toward yourself and be able to function socially, she says. That means no blame or shame when you slip up, and no avoiding dinner with friends because an entire restaurant menu is off-limits.
"With restrictive diets and calorie counting you lose the benefit of moderation and balance."
3. Run an endurance race in a month
Kerri Kramer, a physical therapist and owner of Fast Track Sports Medicine and Performance Center in Merrifield, Va., has seen her share of injuries due to unrealistic goals.
"Someone who hasn't run a mile and plans to do a marathon in a month is going to get injured," Kramer says.
That someone might come to her with one or more of the following issues: tendon injuries, joint tissue injuries and muscle strains in legs and feet.
Instead, if you have a goal in mind, join a run group or read up about specific run training, Kramer says.
And be realistic: If you're going from 0 miles to a marathon it could take a half a year; getting ready for an Ironman triathlon might take a year.
The training needs to be specific with a keen eye on good form, allowing for some cross-training (to strengthen core and hips among other areas) and enough recovery.
Again, if you are unsure, join a group or team.
4. Run (or bike or lift) every day
Kramer says that working out every day can work without your getting injured. But you have to mix up the workouts. Don't work the same muscle groups repeatedly without giving them a chance to heal and recover.
If you're a runner, she says, give yourself a couple of days where you are doing low-impact drills instead of the constant pounding. (Running generates a load to the landing foot and lower leg that is three to five times your body weight.)
"If you are going to do it right, do something low-impact once or twice a week. Something that gives the body a chance to recover," she says.
5. Lift twice your body weight
Brandon McCary, a D.C. personal trainer who is certified through the National Strength and Conditioning Association, is excited to see an increased interest in weightlifting, including power-lifting and Olympic lifting.
But, he cautions, don't attempt to lift twice your body weight or launch right into handstand push-ups because you saw somebody do it on YouTube or Instagram.
"Social media can be very inspiring, but it can also promote unrealistic goals," McCary says.
Lifting heavy takes time, McCary says, and there is no safe short cut.
For someone who is just starting out but wants eventually to be able to do deadlifts, overhead squats and pull-ups, it may take as much as three months to prepare and get ready safely, McCary says.
That foundation involves flexibility drills (it's important in deadlifts that the hamstrings are open; and ankles and calves need to be flexible in a squat) and body-weight exercises (the core - including the back - needs to be strong to stabilize the body during heavy lifts).
In the end, whether you're talking about weightlifting or any other goal, incremental change is sustainable change. We hope these promises to be healthier and get in better shape will continue beyond the first day, first week or even first month. So, here's to a fit and healthy 2016!